Jacob advances his skills in Kenya

Jacob Scadden, a student at Quadram Institute Bioscience, met with the Science Students’ Development Network in Africa (ssDNAfrica) at the PIPS Employer Forum and felt they could provide him with a good internship opportunity. Jacob wanted to improve his communication and organisational skills and had never tried teaching before so wanted to see whether this would be something that he might be interested in as a potential career option. Jacob undertook his internship at the end of his first year, which he found to work well as he had completed the majority of his aims set out as part of his probationary review.

The main focus of the placement was to work with another PIPS intern to deliver Good Research Practises workshops for around 80 undergraduate students at Pwani University in Kilifi, Kenya, covering critical literature review, developing scientific research ideas, and effective academic presentations (posters & PowerPoint). This involved preparing and delivering learning materials and engaging with student presenters to help them improve their public speaking and presentation skills. In addition, Jacob individually ran a “Scientific Leadership” workshop for around 24 Masters students which involved group discussions and teaching of theoretical aspects of leadership. Some of these Masters students went on to apply their learning from the workshops through mentoring undergraduates.

The placement culminated in the Student Science Symposium; a one-day event where students were asked to apply to by writing abstracts which were graded. The students who produced the best abstracts were asked to present talks on their research and the other good abstracts were invited to present posters. The event involved a great deal of organisation, from helping students by providing feedback on their work to liaising with staff from Pwani University, the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme and local vendors to find a venue and providing refreshments, all within a small budget.

Jacob was also involved in writing and editing the ssDNAfrica application for the UEA Innovation and Impact Awards 2020, which was  funded successfully.

Jacob developed many skills as a result of his internship. “I learnt how to prepare and present various course materials, using a variety of online software to make these accessible to the students. I improved my public speaking and communication skills and was able to create networks within the university faculties to help me organise the workshops and symposium”, reflects Jacob. Jacob’s presentation skills were improved dramatically through providing lectures and leading workshops.

Jacob is naturally very organised and likes to plan carefully so he found the internship really developed his ability to think outside the box and react flexibly to changing circumstances. Jacob’s problem solving skills were tested as halfway through the placement the University had to close and the students were not allowed back onto campus. This meant that Jacob had to prepare contingencies and alter the teaching method to an online system rather than in person. This primarily involved providing lectures online in the form of YouTube videos and opening up discussion forums where students could ask questions.

By leading workshops for students at Pwani university and starting new networks within the university and with local businesses Jacob was able to improve his self-confidence. Jacob’s experience has given him confidence to apply to contribute to Norwich Science festival next October and to present his PhD research at a conference this year.

Jacob’s team working skills improved as he undertook the placement with another Quadram DTP student. As part of this team they were able to discuss ideas and help each other with their individual workshops as well as being able to divide jobs to make their work more efficient.

This placement has shown Jacob that there are potential jobs outside of academia, however, for the time being, Jacob plans to use his new skills to improve his prospects within the academic field. Overall, Jacob found his placement to be a very positive experience. “It is a fantastic opportunity to try something new and to learn plenty of new skills that can be used in your PhD”, says Jacob.